BROSSARD, Que. – It has been one injury after another for the Montreal Canadiens.
Goaltender Carey Price was the latest to go down as the team announced Thursday he will miss the rest of the Canadiens playoff series against the Ottawa Senators with a lower-body injury.
That came a day after captain Brian Gionta was told he will be out for the rest of the post-season with a torn biceps tendon in his left arm. He is to undergo surgery on Friday.
With centre Lars Eller out with a concussion and facial injuries from an open hit by Ottawa’s Eric Gryba in Game 1, and with forwards Brandon Prust and Ryan White sidelined with upper-body injuries, the Canadiens had a patchwork lineup heading into Thursday’s must-win Game 5 at the Bell Centre.
Habs defenceman Josh Gorges said the missing regulars meant the rest will have to hunker down and play more as a team while facing elimination from their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series.
“It magnifies it even more when you’re missing key players from your lineup,” said Gorges. “The emphasis goes even more on being a team.
“Playing together, playing tight. We have to be five-man units all over the ice. That’s the only way we can be successful.”
With Price out, Peter Budaj was slated to make his first career playoff start, with Robert Mayer of the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs as his backup. Forward Michael Blunden was to see his first action as well.
The 30-year-old Budaj went 8-1-1 with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage this season. But his only regulation time loss was a 5-1 defeat at Ottawa on Jan. 30 in which he faced 27 shots.
He also played in the overtime period of a 3-2 loss in Game 4 in Ottawa on Tuesday night in which he admitted he should have stopped Kyle Turris’ game-winning shot at the 2:32 mark.
“He’s a good goalie,” said Habs forward Colby Armstrong. “He competes hard and gives us a chance to win.
“He’s played great for us this year when he’s had to come in and shut the door. We have a lot of faith in him.”
Price, who appeared to injure his groin late in regulation time of Game 4, struggled at times in the series and had a 3.26 goals-against average and .894 save percentage.
It left Canadiens fans hoping for the kind of turnaround that Jaroslav Halak, who like Budaj is from Slovakia, helped pull off in 2010. That year, Montreal erased Washington’s 3-1 lead in the first round of the playoffs and then upset Pittsburgh before losing to Philadelphia in the conference final.
“We know his ability,” Gorges said of Budaj. “We’re a confident group in front of him and we know we have to play the same way we would any other night.”
Budaj’s strong play prompted the Canadiens to give him a two-year contract extension worth US$1.4 million per year on April 10. He signed a free agent with Montreal in 2011 from the Colorado Avalanche. In Denver, he was backup to Craig Anderson, who is now the Senators’ starter.
Mayer has been called up before, including on Feb. 16 this season, but has yet to get into a game for the Canadiens.
Gionta was injured in the second period of Game 1. He sat out the next game, but returned and assisted on Montreal’s only goal in a fight-filled 6-1 defeat in Game 3. But the pain was to much to continue in the series.
“That just shows his character and leadership,” said Gorges. “He’s been outstanding since he’s been here.
“He’s helped change the face of this franchise back to being a proud franchise. I think the rest of us can follow in his footsteps.”
Gionta is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.
There was no word on how long Prust or White will be out of the lineup.
Eller has been skating with fitness coach Pierre Allard but is not expected back soon.
A quote from Gryba on Wednesday raised some eyebrows and when he said: “We can smell blood. We can taste blood. And it’s time to put them away.”
Some found it provocative because of the pool of blood Eller left on the ice after the hit. But Gorges said he hadn’t heard the quote and coach Michel Therrien said “no comment.”
Senators forward Zack Smith said Gryba chose his words poorly.
“In some cases players say stuff that fuels the other team, but it that case, I’m sure guys over there know he didn’t mean it in that way—literal blood, as in the Eller hit,” said Smith.
“Not that it matters, but I’m sure they know he didn’t mean it that way.”